Background of One Piece:
One Piece first began as a serialized manga series in 1997. It debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump in August 1997. The Japanese pop-culture phenomenon was created by the author and illustrator Eiichiro Oda. The manga has sold more copies than any other manga series ever with over 250 million copies having been sold since initial publication. The manga has yet to end and has received over 60 published volumes. It has continued to receive critical acclaim and enthusiastic recognition from its always-expanding fan-base.
The (also) massively popular anime series is still ongoing and has aired over 500 produced episodes. It is amongst the longest running series of all time -- in anime form or otherwise. The show premiered in Japan in October 1999. In North America the series was first released by 4Kids Entertainment originally and was heavily criticized for having a poor dub and for edits considered as significant cuts (sometimes entire episodes went missing). Funimation saved the show for North America, produced an excellent dub, and has continued to present One Piece in its uncut, original form as it is presented here and on all One Piece Collection DVD box-sets.
Series and Characters:
One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his crew of pirates. He is joined by Roronoa Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Chopper, Nico Robin, Franky and Sanji. The beginning of the series takes some time to build as the characters are introduced over a nicely paced span of episodes and stories. There are some other characters that join the crew over the course of the show, which will be noted in this section of future One Piece Collection reviews when the characters are later introduced.
The main character is Luffy. As the series begins he is a 17 year old kooky-wacky kid with a heart of gold and a head of emotions. He looks at almost every scenario with total optimism and is unwavering in his belief that things can work out in the end. As a young boy he ate a Gum Gum "Devil" Fruit by accident that gave him special powers. The main power he gained was a rubber body. He can bend, stretch, and seem rubber-like (he is rubber!) in a way that no one else can. Essentially, Luffy is the most flexible person in the entire world (at least in terms of the characters introduced on the show so far). Luffy was once saved by the pirate Shanks, who Luffy seemed to view as a hero and father figure. Luffy decided then that he is to become the "King of the Pirates!" as the legendary Gold Rogers pirate was once called. It has less to do with stealing treasure or amassing wealth as it does with sailing the seas and experiencing the world with friends. Unlike most of the pirates depicted on One Piece, there is little doubt that Luffy has a pure heart and is not attempting to hurt anyone or gain from the loss of others. Luffy is a character that is unafraid of fighting for what's right and this is an endearing quality that has no doubt played a significant part in his long-term popularity. He usually thinks with his emotions more than his brain-power though, and when he does use his brain (i.e. "I have an IDEA!") catastrophe can sometimes ensue. Some viewers of the series might consider him an idiot (other characters on the show have expressed this sentiment as well) but he has things in the right place where they count the most: heart, spirit, and soul. Luffy is easily one of the most endearing, comical, and fun characters in anime history.
Trivia Note: He is also dubbed the "Straw Hat" pirate as he always fondly wears an old straw hat throughout the series. He might also have the largest appetite in any anime, which is certainly saying something.
Roronoa Zoro is one of the most physically strong additions to Luffy's crew. He used to work as a bounty hunter before he met Luffy. Zoro has magnificent skills with swords and he has a dream of becoming the greatest swordsman in the entire world. He somewhat reluctantly joined the crew at first but he quickly becomes a huge asset and friend. One of his sword techniques requires the use of three blades: one in each hand and another held using his mouth. While those who don't know him seem to fear Zoro, he is actually a kind of funny guy who takes more naps than anyone else in the crew (even when compared to Luffy). Zoro is probably the most "kick-ass" type of character within the entire One Piece anime.
Usopp is many things to different people. He gained a reputation as being a "liar", which is true but not exactly telling of his character. Usopp is a storyteller more than anything else. He seems to encourage laughter and happiness in others. It is fascinating to me how he is such a brave and courageous man at times and also a definite coward when something has too much scare-factor for him to face. Most of the time, he pulls through in the end anyway. While some viewers might be inclined to refer to him as a primarily "comic relief" character, there is a lot of sides to Usopp that make him stand out. His dream seems to be to become a strong, confident, and talented sea-adventurer.
Nami is the Navigator. She helps to make sure that the crew heads in the right direction at all times. She also has a dream (clearly a recurring theme of the series with each character) to map out the entire world. Nami is also known as a thief because unlike some of the other pirates of the crew she actually enjoys finding and taking treasures. Ironically, Nami claims to despise all pirates in the early episodes of One Piece until she officially joins Team Luffy. Nami is undoubtedly the smartest member of the entire crew and she is able to use her wit and intelligence to help everyone out of some of the strangest and most dire situations on the show.
Sanji might be the most compassionate of the central characters. He is the cook for Luffy's crew and he never hesitates to serve food to those in need of a meal. Early in his life, Sanji experienced what it was like to suffer from hunger firsthand and this dramatically impacted his attitude towards others experiencing hunger. He can seem to be the most level-headed of the team at times but then also the most over-tempered as well. If someone rubs Sanji the wrong way he never takes the matter too lightly. Besides having the occasional anger-management issue there is no question that he's a genuinely nice character who receives enjoyment from cooking, flirting with women, and helping others out in a pickle (the pun was absolutely intended). Sanji's goal is to find the All Blue, which connects each area of the ocean.
A wacky, well-spirited, and adventurous doctor named Tony Tony Chopper joins the group during the previous One Piece Collection. Chopper is a reindeer with a blue nose. He ate a Human Human Fruit that gave him the ability to speak and act in a human manner. Chopper hasn't been entirely the same ever since. He can walk, talk, and act as goofy as all the rest of the merry pirates on this show. There are multiple forms that this character can take: the form of a normal reindeer, a reindeer with the qualities of a young human boy, and a monstrous gigantic reindeer with the power of a body-builder man. This makes the character an interesting addition to the series. It was nice to see his relevance to the crew become a part of the ongoing plot. Team Luffy needed a doctor and he was a perfect match.
The mysterious and ever-so quiet Nico Robin is also a crew member. She is perhaps the most peculiar of all of the additions to the Straw Hat Pirates crew, because in previous episodes she had seemed to be more of an opposing force to some degree. Her actions were often very confusing because it is hard to tell if she is with the group primarily for her own (and not entirely disclosed) reasons or if she is turning a new leaf and wants to be a part of the positive proceedings accordingly. This makes her character one that is hard to grasp sometimes but it also makes her a fascinating addition to the One Piece group. As we get to know the character a bit better, however, she does seem to serve as an invaluable asset to the crew and spirit. Nico is a archaeologist and she has a wide range of knowledge about historical events and this gives her a more extensive understanding of some of the potential pitfalls looming before the Straw Hat Pirates that can help them during their adventures. Nico also has some strange powers, indeed, and fans are surely going to continue to see plenty of her abilities in later episodes. Think of some of the skills a certain captain named Luffy has but multiple all of that by a few times at least. You might get an idea (or at least a hint) of what one of her own skills is. Absolutely Impressive!
Franky, a more recent addition to Team Luffy, is a "Cyborg" sailor of the seas who aims to be a shipwright. Though the original goal of Franky doesn't extend to his own solo outing in the way expected, the new crew member helps the entire team immensely (and brings about new things to the bunch when it comes down to continuing their journey together with a brand new, stylish boat). Franky is able to use cocoa power to help with his uncommonly gifted superpowers and is another oddball crew member on this fun, exciting, and action packed adventure.
For anyone who has experienced the joys of watching One Piece there is no question as to why the series has been such a massively huge hit in Japan and around the world. It starts with the characters as the most essential element but it extends far beyond that. There are many high quality production and storytelling aspects to this series, all of which helps it to stand out distinctively from a crowded anime scene.
The art stands apart all on its own as one of the best production elements. The character designs are distinctive and memorable: not only for the central leading characters but for the majority of the supporting players as well. The unique art style crafted by One Piece manga artist Eiichiro Oda has been faithfully translated as the main animation style of the series. This will no doubt please both longtime fans and newcomers who should be able to easily see the wondrous qualities in abundance. There is a silly and comical tone to the art that ultimately helps to make it easier to absorb the many varying aspects of the ongoing story.
The central direction for the entire series is done by Kônosuke Uda. Uda doesn't have that huge of a list of directorial credits to his name prior to his work on One Piece (perhaps his most significant previous directing job was for Sailor Moon S - the third and best season). Yet there can be no mistaking the massive undertaking and leadership taken on with the One Piece craftsmanship at his helm. The series has a near perfect blend of story, action, comedy, drama, adventure, and more. Oda contributed significantly to this success story through having crafted the characters, artwork styles, and overall genre styling's with his manga creation but anime general Uda uses that magic to craft even more unique magic with this increasingly well-made series.
The pacing is surprisingly consistent and enjoyable. The story rarely seems to have what usually becomes known as a high episode count of "filler" episodes typically found in any series that runs as long as this show has by this point. While the story occasionally veers towards telling side-plotlines that might seem designed as filler to some members of the audience there is also an undercurrent of smart and finely-tuned scripting that makes it almost impossible to not find some new and entertaining aspect during these moments. Ultimately, the storytelling is so vibrant, full of life, and exciting most of the time that it seems illogical to complain about an aspect that isn't disappointing at all. One Piece has even altered my concept of the filler episode by bringing enjoyment to those types of episodes as well.
There is a trifecta of One Piece elements that seem worth discussing together. The music used on the show is excellent and definitely adds another layer to the energy and thrill of each episode. The comedy is jubilant and silly so that the primary goal of the storytellers was most likely to bring genuine smiles to the audience. Lastly, the themes and message behind the series prove to be meaningful. This trifecta exists because of the occasionally repetitive nature of these reoccurring aspects. This comment is not meant as a negative criticism, but is instead primarily an observation. The humor often relies upon a re-used joke that proved successful in an earlier episode, and while the show is smart to continue adding original elements on a frequent basis it seems to understand how certain elements can be reused in different circumstances to some degree. The music draws heavily upon a core group of musical themes that seem to emphasis different emotions that are the focus of a given scene. This offers viewers a welcoming blend of familiarity while also establishing some consistency at the core.
The essential message of One Piece: To follow your dreams. It's the best message a show or film can give towards audiences and it is something that is handled with a level of grace that is uncommon. When audiences are also given a thematic backdrop which suggests it is important to bring some kindness to others and to remember to keep friends close to the heart it becomes vibrantly clear that One Piece is far more than one of the best series on television: it is a show which wears its beautiful heart directly on its sleeve. One Piece deserves to be seen by anyone in the world who considers themselves an anime fan on any level. It is not to be overlooked!
The Collection (Set 16, Episodes 373-396):
One Piece returns with another exciting batch of episodes which doesn't disappoint. The latest collection DVD release from Funimation offers One Piece fans the conclusion to the thrilling Thriller Bark Arc. The zombie-filled saga storyline comes to a big close with an intense arc ending which brings the villain Kuma to battle. Stepping up to the plate for an exhausted and nearly defeated Luffy, Sanji and Zoro give their all to try and defeat Kuma. Zoro brings his A-Game to the fight against Kuma and does his best for the team.
A new storyline begins following the end of the exciting Thriller Bark Arc. In the new storyline saga, Luffy must try and defeat the villain Moria. The second half of the collection involves the Straw Hat Pirates encounter with fishmen and a mermaid girl named Camie. Things get intense for everyone when Camie gets kidnapped. It's up to Luffy and the rest to rescue her and take on the Celestial Dragons.
This batch of episodes also offers a terrific establishment for a new crew member to the Straw Hat Pirates: a skeleton musician by the name of Brook. His back-story begins to unfold during the set and introduces a new important storyline: the crew decides to help bring Brook back to a special whale which waited for Brook and his old crew for many years. Brook joins the journey while seeking out his long-lost whale friend. It's a sentimental and moving back-story that is a nice addition to this otherwise action-packed collection of episodes.
Fans of One Piece will continue to find this one of the greatest anime series around. There are few anime series with such great characters, adventures, and action-packed fun. It's no wonder that One Piece remains such a huge hit in Japan as the longest running anime of all time. This is a terrific series and One Piece: Collection 16 continues to demonstrate why with two exciting storylines and a fantastic new character joining the Straw Hat Pirates crew. Fans will have a blast.
One Piece arrives on DVD from Funimation in a collection box-set format that combines two of the previously released "Voyage" sets into one. The PQ and AQ are no different from the earlier releases. Funimation hasn't even altered the menu design for these DVD collections.
Collection 16 continues to present One Piece in a refreshing 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation which is now the standard aspect ratio for the rest of the series. It's incredible getting to see the crew in widescreen and the crisp, clean, and vibrant animation looks so stunning on this release.
The colors are immersive, beautiful, and bold. Line art is strong and noteworthy. The encoding quality by Funimation is generally impressive as well. This is a quality DVD presentation that has good clarity and only disappoints with minor aliasing. There are also no major issues with compression artifacts. Fans of the series will be quite pleased by the strong presentation.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound for the English language dub continues to be an excellent choice for fans wanting to watch in English. The surrounds have been actively used to create an enveloping experience with good use of sound effects and enough room for the score to add an element of suspense, fun, and intrigue. The voice cast for the Funimation dub is superb and a huge step up over what 4Kids attempted many years ago. Anyone who watches One Piece through these Funimation releases should appreciate the company's English dubbed version.
I usually prefer watching anime in the original Japanese language with English subtitles, but with some shows I make an exception to that with regards to viewing preference. One Piece is such an edge-of-your-seat program and the characters dialogue flies by so quickly that I tend to like the dub partially because of the type of anime series this is: a fast-paced and action-packed one. Luckily, Funimation has given One Piece one of the best English dubs around.
In preserving the original Japanese stereo track the series can also be appreciated with the original audio for those who prefer to experience this great show as it first aired in Japan. The English subtitles are provided for the Japanese dub. Either language option is worthwhile. I have a slight preference for the more robust sounding surround sound choice accompanying the English dub but both options feature clean and easy to understand dialogue.
Villains and Fishmen: A Peak Behind the Curtain (22 min.) is a behind the scenes featurette with a focus on select members of the English dub voice cast. The focus is upon the voice-actors who are voicing some of the arc's villains and fishmen. The featurette includes interviews with the English dub director as well as a behind the scenes look at the dubbing process for the show.
In the Galley with the Straw Hats (27 min.) features a Question and Answer session featuring five members of the English dub voice cast. The voice cast answers a series of questions fans asked (such as: what their favorite foods are and if the dub cast have become friends over the course of the long production).
Select Cast and Crew Commentaries (featuring members of the English dub cast/production team) are included on the following episodes: Episode 377, Episode 384, Episode 387, and Episode 393.
Lastly, textless opening/ending credits and trailers promoting other Funimation Entertainment releases are included.
One Piece: Collection 16 offers fans of the series another fantastic batch of episodes of the long-running anime. The set contains an exciting conclusion to the Thriller Bark Arc and a brand new storyline involving the latest crew member Brook. There is also an intense storyline involving a mermaid and fishpeople which builds to an intense cliffhanger which is guaranteed to leave fans wondering what will happen next.
This is another excellent One Piece release from Funimation Entertainment which is a must-own for fans of the series.